Intentional raccoon drowning at Reeds Pond in Wellesley — how not to deal with wildlife

It was a sickening picture on a popular Wellesley-residents social media page. The raccoon had been trapped and, while still alive, tossed cage and all into Reeds Pond in Wellesley. The sturdy enclosure, about 4.5-feet long by 1.5-feet  wide, was almost entirely submerged. There was only just enough room in the metal cage for the animal to keep herself above the water line, provided she wriggle her body just so. Her strength soon ran out, and she died in the trap before a resident came upon the grisly scene. Animal Control Office Sue Webb, who responded to the call says, “She was a nursing female so there are babies starving somewhere. She was crunched to the top section and died there trying to stay above water line. Of course no markings on the trap as to ownership.” Somewhere nearby, her helpless litter of kits most likely didn’t survive the loss of their mother.

Reeds Pond, Wellesley
Reeds Pond, Wellesley

If you’ve ever had unwanted animals in your yard, you know how difficult border control can be. We humans all think Wellesley is a great place to live and raise a family, and so does a profusion of chipmunks, squirrels, raccoons, deer, rabbits, snakes, coyotes, foxes, woodpeckers, and woodchucks. So common are such critters in town it’s frankly no wonder that gardens are ravished in the night; garbage cans treated like an unlimited cruise ship buffet; and crawl spaces turned into rent-free Airbnbs.

Whether these animals are wanted or unwanted (and that point of view varies widely from human to human), to relegate them to a horrific death such as the one suffered by the Reeds Pond raccoon is not only inhumane, it’s illegal. Although that makes it sound as if  the law is on the side of the critters, they actually have very few advantages. True, it’s illegal to drown or relocate a nuisance animal, but according to the State of Massachusetts just about any animal can be construed as a nuisance and dealt with accordingly. All a human need show is that the animal does one of the following:

  • Endangers the life and health of humans or domestic animals
  • Damages your property
  • Obstructs your reasonable and comfortable use of property

Reeds Pond, Wellesley
Reeds Pond, Wellesley

The obstruction charge alone is what gets many an animal the death penalty. Trapping nuisance animals isn’t illegal during prescribed times of year, and virtually anyone 12 years of age and older can get a license to do so. However, the trapping of any animal is not allowed during breeding months. The upcoming trapping season for raccoons is November 1, 2018 – February 29, 2020.

Natural Resources Commission Director Brandon Schmitt says, “Beyond being very saddened by the lack of empathy for a living creature, this act was a crime. Trapping requires a license and must be performed during specific times of year, and all traps must be clearly labeled with their owner’s information. I’m especially troubled by the lack of respect for the public space that this incident demonstrates, not to mention the possible threats to public health.  As we know from our efforts to reduce pesticides, whatever ends up in our surface waters has the potential to enter the drinking water supply, and intentionally dumping animals and traps in the ponds is beyond gross and inhumane, it poses a very real health risk.”

It’s also a no to the trap-and-release idea. “That’s how rabies spread up the east coast,” Webb said. In addition, a relocated animal is an animal at risk. It may be hit by a vehicle while traveling back home; it will likely struggle to find food, water, and shelter in a new area, possibly leading to death; and the area may already be home to a member of the same species who likely will not welcome the newcomer, causing conflict, stress, or even death.

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It’s probably the rare homeowner who hasn’t foiled a mouse or two with a trap, or called on a Licensed Problem Animal Control agent to get the squirrels out of the attic for good. Sometimes the deeds must be done to maintain a sanitary and safe home environment. The outrage over the Reeds Pond raccoon stems from the absolute disregard for life and the distinct lack of respect for wild animals. That lack of respect was also directed at humans, as it was disgusting to defile the popular fishing spot with a raccoon sentenced to the death penalty.

There are times when the Town has targeted animals as a nuisance and moved toward eliminating them from certain areas. Schmitt says, “The NRC recently had to make the very difficult decision to remove beavers from State Street [Pond]. This decision was not one that was made lightly.  We are fortunate to have one of the leading experts in beaver control located in the state, with whom we have consulted in a few locations in Town, including State Street. Mike Callahan from Beaver Solutions advocates generally for coexistence as a first option, and only recommended trapping beavers at State Street when other options were not feasible. Beavers at State Street are not drowned, rather caught in live traps and dispatched offsite.” Dispatched means killed, as relocation is not legal.

State Street Pond, Wellesley
State Street Pond, Wellesley. When I took this pic on Wednesday, July 3, a cormorant was sunning itself in the middle of a pond, perched on a fallen tree branch.

Schmitt says, “I think I can speak for the board that they loathe making this decision, but will continue to have this conversation at their meetings until a viable solution is found that allows us to coexist at that location. The public is welcome to submit comments or join the conversation about beaver management on Town land at any time.”

State Street Pond, also known as Skating Pond, is located in Fuller Brook Park in the Memorial Grove area, near the Wellesley High School Track and Field. In 2015 as part of the Fuller Brook Park project, the pond was dredged and restored. Nearly 150 truck trips were made from the State Street parking lot to a landfill in Chelmsford, Massachusetts, to remove the more than 4,000 tons of sediment that were dredged. The pond today is a healthy, running body of water. That it attracts beavers is a testament to the success of its renovation. Schmitt says the town will continue to seek ways to coexist at the site with the dam-building, semi-aquatic rodents.

Ways to humanely handle nuisance wildlife issues:

Sue Webb had several recommendations on how to handle unwanted wildlife on private property:

First and foremost, cut off their food source. “I often get calls around 4pm from people who think a rabid animal is in their yard. What’s really happening is the animal has gone out in search of food to bring back to its babies. That’s why I tell people to make sure their garage doors are down before 4pm. If they get in there once and find food, they’ll keep coming back to see if maybe you left the door open again.”

 

Keep your compost in a secure container. Composting is great for the environment and the resulting black gold does wonders for the garden. A big pile of fruit and veggie scraps is an attractant to animals, however. Either use a compost tumbler (or other enclosed system), or take advantage of the town’s food waste program.

Don’t feed your pets outside.

Remove bird feeders from your property.  As those who have a feeder can tell you, they attract more than just birds. So far there’s no problem with bears in Wellesley, but they love bird feeders, too.

Never deliberately feed wildlife, as they can lose their natural fear of humans. They don’t need human intervention to survive.

Cut off crawl spaces under porches, decks, and sheds. Webb says, “Fence the crawl spaces with chicken wire around them and about a foot down underground. If you’ve seen an animal going in and out, do the fencing except for one part where you can put a piece of cardboard as a way for the animal to get in and out. If you see that the cardboard has been knocked out of the way, you know the animal is still living under there. Once you see the cardboard has stayed in one place for a few days, you can finish the fencing because you know the animal has moved on and you won’t be trapping it in the space.”

Epilogue

I took a right onto Woodside Avenue and pulled up alongside Reeds Pond. I needed to update Swellesley’s file photos of the 2-acre body of water with an average depth of 2.5-feet, and it was a good excuse to get outside. As I put the car into park, I looked up to see a man dumping several goldfish from a plastic bag, over the railing, and into the pond.

“How come you dumped the goldfish into the pond?” I asked.

“We weren’t feeding them right at my house. The boys…” he trailed off.

Reeds Pond. A busy place these days.